Bringing a 100-Year-Old Bathroom into the 21st Century

bathroomBy David Lewis

A 100-year-old home presents many challenges when it comes time to remodel it. Oak Park residents Marc and Samantha Imowitz faced those challenges head-on when they decided to remodel the master bath in their recently purchased Spanish Colonial-style home. The bath had been updated a few times during the home’s long history, but the last remodel, probably done in the 1960s, was simply awful.

The project was extensive and required the expertise of an experienced contractor. The Imowitzes decided to retain Des Plaines-based Katlia Construction, a residential remodeling company that had completed some previous projects for them.

Maintaining the early-1900s style of the original bath was important. The bathroom started out “very small,” says Mark Paulson, Katlia Construction’s senior home remodeling advisor. “We designed the new bath with three specific objectives: make it more functional, maintain its vintage appearance, and include modern conveniences.”

“This is the last of a series of remodeling projects for us,” says Samantha. “We were planning to wait, but the original bath was basically non-functional. It was leaking everywhere and we didn’t want to keep patching it up.”

Katlia’s project manager, Vince Ventura, and his crew began the project by completely gutting the entire bathroom, removing two existing partition walls, removing the old radiators, tiles, and flooring, and eliminating a closet next to the bathroom to increase the room size. Next, all of the existing water lines and drains were removed.

Because of the age of the home, the walls and ceilings were not level, so the team installed new reframed walls, sub-flooring and flooring. Additionally, the home was not built to accommodate the weight of modern fixtures, so new support beams were sistered into the existing floor joists. Also, while the interior of the walls and ceiling were exposed, fiberglass insulation was also added to help make the room feel warm and cozy, especially during the cold winter months. Heat and air conditioning are now supplied by new “SpacePak” ducting, a product that is commonly used in older homes.

bathroom 2After the walls were covered with drywall, new recessed can ceiling lighting and decorative wall mounted lighting fixtures were installed, providing both a warm glow and a stylish finishing touch to the room.

Katlia’s carpenters installed matching custom millwork trim for the baseboards and framing around the windows and doors. The custom millwork replicates the original style of the home.

The homeowners hoped to add a separate shower but there were issues with the Village of Oak Park’s code restrictions. They were told they would need to increase service pipes to the street for more water pressure, which would have added significant additional costs. Paulson suggested a combination shower and tub which provided a suitable and cost-effective alternative. A Kohler combination tub and shower was installed with a custom-made hinged glass door that provides easy access to the faucets and does not require the user to step into the tub to turn on the bath or shower. Another highlight of the tub and shower is the “rain” showerhead.

White ceramic subway wall tile in a brick pattern adorns the walls, and light gray marble floor tile in a period-correct mosaic pattern covers the floor. A privacy wall was added to separate the commode from the remainder of the room. Typically, master baths have two separate sinks, but in this case, the homeowner chose a single sink to increase countertop space. The countertop is white Carrara, and the vanity beneath it is finished in an espresso color. Recessed medicine cabinets were installed above the vanity. A ceiling exhaust fan was added to circulate the air and remove excess humidity.

To provide seating, the homeowners added a teak wood bench. On the opposite side of the new master bath, Katlia’s craftsmen built new “his and hers” closets and a built-in window seat that showcases the original octagonal window. Finally, a custom-made, full-length arched mirror was added to the room.

While the Imowitzes plan to stay put for a while, real estate agents agree that the kitchen and bathrooms are the most important rooms for resale value.

“When you remodel a bathroom or kitchen for resale, buyers scrutinize the rooms carefully because those are typically the most expensive rooms to remodel,” said Paulson. “A freshly remodeled kitchen and bath dramatically increases the home’s resale value.”

The finishing touch to any remodeling project is paint. No one understands this better than Peter Thomas of Thomas Restoration Painting in Oak Park. Thomas, a self-described “DOOPer” (Dear Old Oak Parker) says, “It is important to choose colors that work with the finishes in the room. However, color is a very personal choice for homeowners. Some prefer soft background colors—pale green is popular now—and others prefer bold colors that pop.”

According to the Imowitzes, the finished project is a complete success. “We love it,” says Samantha. “We did it exactly like we wanted, vintage with a contemporary flair.”

After 100 years of daily use, the new master bath is now ready for another century of service.

David Lewis is a publicist and writer based in Morton Grove, Illinois.